NEW YORK – So little to separate them over their careers, so little to separate them on this night.
Serena Williams barely got the better of older sister Venus Williams in a U.S. Open quarterfinal that was fit for a final, coming back in each set to win 7-6 (6), 7-6 (7) Wednesday night and break a tie in their head-to-head series.
Serena trailed 5-3 in both sets. She faced set points in both – a total of 10, including eight in the second. But she advanced to the semifinals at Flushing Meadows for the first time since 2002, the year she beat Venus in the title match for her second U.S. Open championship.
“I felt like I was always in control,” Venus said. “If it was someone else, I definitely feel like I would have won the match.”
It was the siblings’ 17th meeting as professionals, and Serena leads 9-8. That includes 11 matches at Grand Slam tournaments, where Serena leads 6-5.
She also has the edge in total major championships, 8-7, and only she can add to that total this weekend.
“It’s really just unfortunate it had to be in the quarters,” Serena said.
In the semifinals, the fourth-seeded Serena will meet No. 6 Dinara Safina, who advanced earlier in the day by overpowering No. 16 Flavia Pennetta 6-2, 6-3. No. 2 Jelena Jankovic will face No. 5 Elena Dementieva in Friday’s other semifinal.
In the end, they were separated by three total points, 101-98. Venus had an 8-7 edge in aces.
Back when they were ranked Nos. 1 and 2, the siblings only could meet in tournament finals. But because of injuries, inactivity and inconsistency, they dropped in the rankings, and now it’s the luck of the draw that determines at which stage they potentially meet.
At Wimbledon in July, for example, they wound up on opposite halves of the field, and Venus beat Serena in the final for her fifth title at the All England Club. At the U.S. Open, they wound up in the same section of the bracket, so they were forced to meet in the round of eight.
The start of the all-Williams showdown was delayed by more than an hour because of two lengthy matches that preceded it on the tournament’s main court, including a women’s doubles match and No. 6 Andy Murray’s four-set victory over No. 17 Juan Martin del Potro in the men’s quarterfinals. The long day was capped by No. 1 Rafael Nadal beating unseeded Mardy Fish 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2, getting past the quarterfinals for the first time in six trips to Flushing Meadows with a victory that ended with the scoreboard showing 2:10 a.m..
Fish took the opening set on the strength of a 23-6 edge in winners, some gutsy serving and one service break. But Nadal never faced a break point the rest of the way.